Why We Need Riot Police

They’ve become a familiar sight. The boys in black, thundering through the streets in their iron beasts, on their way to quell the latest disturbance. From Ferguson to Baltimore, from Oakland to Cleveland, riot police have been dispatched to do their duty and protect communities gripped by mass civil disobedience.

So claim those who take the state at its word. The skeptics among us find that reality paints a different picture. Those on the scene in Cleveland, where protesters gathered to express their condemnation of officer Michael Brelo’s supposed innocence in the deaths of two unarmed civilians, found that the tactics utilized by the Cleveland Police Department did more to inflame tensions than anything the protesters did. According to Sam Allard, a CleveScene writer who witnessed the protests firsthand, “officers weren’t trying to prevent a riot. They were trying to trap loners and those clearly not trained in the strategies (and let’s face it, etiquette) of nonviolent protest.” By deploying unnecessary force to corral protesters into a single cramped location, the riot police were able to arrest them for “failure to disperse,” despite the fact that the protesters had “nowhere to disperse to.”

As Allard notes, the fiasco in Cleveland would not have occurred had the police pursued less aggressive methods of law enforcement. But they did not. They deliberately decided to dispatch the most confrontational means of crowd control at their disposal, conforming to a nationwide trend kickstarted by the massive post-9/11 distribution of military equipment to local police departments. The entire nation was stunned by the sight of armored personnel carriers and assault rifle wielding warrior cops in Ferguson, forcing us to recognize the effects of what Glenn Greenwald describes as the “out-of-control orgy of domestic police militarization” propagated by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security under both the Bush and Obama regimes.

Accompanying this deadly deluge is an equally dangerous mentality, what has recently been dubbed the “Rise of the Warrior Cop” in the Radley Balko book of the same name. Balko spoke to Salon regarding this mentality:

So when you arm a cop like a soldier, when you dress ‘em like a soldier, when you tell ‘em to fight in a war and then send ‘em out into a neighborhood that he has no stake in and doesn’t consider himself a part of, you get a very antagonistic, us-versus-them relationship between the officer and that community.

The effects of this mentality are only magnified when riot police come up against entire communities rising up together in protest. Add to this baleful brew warrior cops’ nasty habit — recently confirmed by Berkeley researchers — of instigating violence wherever they go and it becomes immediately apparent that riot police play no protective role whatsoever.

Riot police, via Wikimedia Commons

Riot police, via Wikimedia Commons

If riot police do not serve to preserve peace, their presence at protests preserves only the status quo being challenged and serves only those who benefit from the system as it currently exists. The deployment of armored battalions to combat protesters is a damning indictment of American democracy, a symbolic sight made explicit by the protesters’ chants of “Indict! Convict! Send those killer cops to jail! The whole damn system is guilty as hell!

From Roman legionnaires to British redcoats to American warrior cops, states have always utilized force to mask a simple fact, taken for granted and forgotten by so many: states have no real power. The monarchies of old were granted their legitimacy by the supposed “divine right” of kings; as the chosen agents of God, monarchs had the right to rule over His creation. Democratic ideals challenged this notion, and those who advocated such ideals were slaughtered. Soon democracy become the dominant power structure. In a democracy, we are told, governments draw their power from the consent of the governed.

But time and again, this consent proves to be just as hollow an ideal as the divine right of kings. The power struggle between the people and their masters did not end with the advent of democracy, and we are living in tumultuous times. Years of economic catastrophe and political dysfunction have left the American people frustrated and disgusted by a system which chooses to serve the overstuffed few rather than the starving millions, and these frustrated voices are speaking out at an exponential rate. Expect to see more and more of the boys in black as Americans across the nation continue denying this government their consent.

Raghav Sharma is a writer, filmmaker, and political activist studying at the University of Pittsburgh. He writes on electoral and campaign finance issues, foreign policy, and economic affairs.

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10 Responses to “Why We Need Riot Police”

  1. Bill_Perdue says:

    There are differences. The Wiemar Germans weren’t murdering citizens like Obama does. But they had a police state in place.

    Next time try providing some data or citations instead or rhetoric.

  2. Bcre8ve says:

    “Greetings, it is 1932 and welcome to the German empire.”?


  3. Zorba says:

    Well, of course, nicho.
    The thing that never ceases to amaze me in this country is that many of the people who are being held down, the very people who have no chance for a better life because of the 1%, continue to vote against their own self-interests.
    Of course, the vast majority of these people are white, and they have been very carefully taught by the powers that be and their lackeys in the mainstream media, to fear the “other.” People of different color, people of different religion. The militarized police force not only serves to protect that 1%, but to remind those idiots that they could be next, while conveniently offering them the spectacle of blacks, or Muslim terrorists, or whoever, to be afraid of.
    If they would ever lose their blinders and wake the f*ck up, and realize that minorities (and Muslims) are being held up as bogeymen in order to scare them into going along with the status quo, we might, just might, start to get somewhere.
    Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to live long enough to see this happen.

  4. nicho says:

    Police forces were specifically set up — from the very beginning — to protect the wealthy plunderers from the rest of us. In the South, they were slave patrols. In the North, they were union busters and head breakers. The police have never existed to “serve and protect” the working class.

  5. Bill_Perdue says:

    TodaysNew York Times: “Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.”

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    The militarization of cops is one of the final steps, along with the creation, without the approval of Congress, of the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) are just a few of the final steps in the creation of the now fully active US police state.

    The construction of the modern police state began with Truman’s Loyalty Program which instead of focusing on the still very powerful and racist KKK/SouthernBaptist/Democrat alliance and purveyors of Antisemitism required loyalty oaths and investigations of gays and people in the CP and the SWP who continued to gain influence in trade unions. It was based on the Democrat/Republican fear of increasing radicalization in unions and among workers.

    Eisenhower and Kennedy continued the Loyalty Program and modestly expanded and the next big development of the American police state occurred during the Johnson and Nixon administration and included the targeted murder of citizens in the civil rights and antiwar movements.

    Since the beginning of this century the American police state has grown enormously with hundreds of local ‘anti-terrorist’ laws, FISA, the Paytriot Act, NDAA which authorizes the illegal detention of people and Obama’s repeated orders to kill political or military opponents, including the widespread use of drones and includes Obama’s racist murders of six (so far) Arab and muslim Americans.

    Gruß, es ist 1932 und willkommen in der Deutsch reich.

  7. BeccaM says:

    When cops are equipped like an army, instilled in a culture of antagonism toward civilians (especially those of color), trained to escalate rather than de-escalate potentially difficult situations, and essentially ordered to behave like an occupying army, what else should we expect?

  8. 2karmanot says:

    Perhaps if the crowds started throwing corn cobs, table left-overs and alfalfa it would distract them.

  9. bkmn says:

    The overaggressive cops are only aided by the infusion of war-grade tools such as tanks and other surplus military equipment. This equipment really tips the scales when it comes to dealing with crowds in the favor of the police going too far.

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